2 Neurones & 1 Camera

Olivier Thereaux

Have we stopped caring?

TED talks. I can’t express how much I admire this conference, the themes it tackles, the great speakers it secures, and the smart, smart move of making all the talks available for free on the web, booming its exposure to the world and making it a conference more people want to attend, not fewer. Chew on that, RIAA, MPAA and your ilk. If anything, TED should be renamed along the lines of “1000 ways to make the world a better place”, which would be much more fitting than “Technology, Entertainment and Design”.

One of the things I heard most often in recent talks was “the problem is we stopped caring”. I would almost agree with it it if didn’t remind me so much of the 80-years-old pianist who tried to teach me a couple of decades ago, but mostly managed to bore me with recurrent tales of how “things were better before”.

Have we stopped caring? This question brings back a memory of a work teleconference that happened a few years ago.

With 50-ish people of different cultures and backgrounds on the call, one of my colleagues (let’s call him Charles) made a rather rude, sexually connotated joke – a joke that would have passed quite well in his native France, perhaps, but made a few people, including one US female colleague (let’s call her, em, Julie) rather puzzled and mad. Julie wants to tell Charles off for his crude joke, but diplomatically asks – still on the call with 50 on the line – for a private conversation afterward. Charles replies “I don’t care”, making Julie even more aggravated.

What Charles actually wanted to say was “I don’t mind”, i.e. “OK, I’m not sure why you are upset at the joke but let’s talk as tolerant, intelligent people”. But for a non-native speaker of English, “I don’t mind” was just a slip of the tongue away from “I don’t care”…

Every time I hear one of the genial minds at TED lament “we have stopped caring” I can’t help remembering that incident. Surely, we have stopped minding. The past century, I want to believe, has made us humans much more tolerant: too many wars have flipped most of us away from xenophobia, large middle classes away from class hatred, globalization away from racism. Tolerance, which originally means “the ability to endure pain” has become an unquestioned virtue of our liberal-democratic societies.

We definitely have stopped minding, but have we stopped caring? In societies where not being upset at alien concepts or behavior, in cities where somehow the notion of community has been lost for the the protection of our sanity in a crowded environment, the line between tolerance and indifference is indeed thin. Has our (western, mostly) society made a collective, unconscious slip of the tongue from “I don’t mind” to “I don’t care”? Perhaps, but I’d like some proof that this isn’t just the old grumpy person in us complaining that “good old times” were better.


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